Does God Really Desire to Save the
Rev. Angus Stewart
(slightly modified from articles
originally published in the British Reformed Journal)
"At that time Jesus answered and said,
I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid
these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto
babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in
thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man
knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father,
save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him" (Matt.
Our subject in this article is God: God the Father
Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; the Triune God, Father, Son and
Holy Spirit. The question we are asking concerning the true God is this:
Does God desire to save the reprobate? Does God really desire to
save the reprobate?1
This is not, however, the way in which the issue is
usually expressed. It is commonly stated along these lines: "God loves
everybody and God desires to save everybody," or "Sinner, God wants to
save you," or "God has a wonderful plan for your life." This is declared
promiscuously to everyone under the sound of the preacher’s voice.
How is the believer to analyze these statements?
Obviously, he must think as a Christian in the light of the Word of God
and the doctrines of the Word of God. He must bring to bear on these
issues, of course, the truth of God’s glorious attributes and His
eternal, unconditional decree of election and reprobation. These
doctrines are stated in all the Reformed confessions along with such
doctrines as the Trinity, the Person and natures of Jesus Christ,
creation, and all the rest. Election, briefly stated, is God’s eternal,
unconditional choice of some fallen sinners unto eternal life in Jesus
Christ. Reprobation is God’s eternal rejection of others. God chose not
to save them but to punish them in the way of their sins. This too is an
unconditional choice of God before He formed the world.
This is Reformed teaching. This is the teaching of
the Westminster Confession of Faith and the confessions which are
derived from it: the Savoy Declaration of the Congregationalists
(1658) and the Baptist Confession (1689). This is the teaching of
the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619) and other Reformed creeds.
This is also biblical teaching. In Matthew 11:25,
Jesus Christ says, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast
revealed them unto babes." Jesus had taught and wrought miracles in
Galilee, so the people there had heard the truth of the gospel (vv.
20-24). Some spiritually understood and received it; others did not. The
reason why some spiritually understood and received it while others did
not is that God "revealed" it to some and "hid" it from others (v. 25).
God’s hiding these things from the wise and the prudent takes place in
time, in accordance with His decree of reprobation. God’s revealing the
truth of salvation unto babes also takes place in time, in the
illumination of the saints, according to God’s decree of election.
Jesus continues, "Even so, Father: for so it seemed
good in thy sight" (v. 26). It was pleasing and good to God that some
people would have the gospel hidden from them, even though they heard it
preached, and that other people would have it revealed to them not only
outwardly but also inwardly. When Jesus says, "it seemed good in thy
sight," we must understand that it was good in the sight of the
eternal and unchangeable God. It is good in His sight on the day on
which the illuminating of some and the blinding or hardening of others
took place. It is also good in God’s sight before the foundation of the
world, because God is timeless. Before the world, God eternally is;
there is no time in the eternal God.
So then, does God love everybody, including the
reprobate, those whom He has chosen not to save? Does God desire to save
everybody? Does God have a wonderful plan for everybody’s life?
God does love all His elect people, the
spiritual Israel of God. "Jacob have I loved," God declares (Rom. 9:13).
God does desire to save the elect and God shows that He desires
to save the elect by sending Jesus Christ to die for them and by giving
them faith and repentance that they might fellowship with and glorify
Him. Moreover, God does have a wonderful plan for the lives of
all of His elect people, for "all things work together for good to them
that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose"
(Rom. 8:28). This wonderful plan which God has for the believer’s life
includes things which he would not have chosen for himself. But in God’s
infinite wisdom, in His grace and providence, all things do work
together for the believer’s spiritual and eternal good.
If these questions, though, are applied to the
reprobate, the answer to all of them is "No." God does not love
them. "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Rom. 9:13). Esau,
here, is an individual. But it is not as if God loved all the reprobate
people in the world but hated just this one individual person. That is
not the idea. All who are reprobated, God hates. God does not
desire to save them. As Jesus said in Matthew 11, "I thank thee, O
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things
from the wise and the prudent … Even so Father for so it seemed good in
thy sight" (vv. 25-26). This is good in God’s eyes. This is God’s
desire, His purpose and will in this world. The whole Scripture teaches
(and this is taught too especially in the Westminster Larger
Catechism, Q. & A. 27-29), that those who are outside of
Jesus Christ and are not chosen are cursed. They are cursed in their
unbelief and rebellion both in this world and in the world to come. They
perish forever and ever in hell. This is not a wonderful plan for
them. In God’s purpose it brings glory to Him. It magnifies His justice.
But for them it is not a wonderful plan. It is only mockery to proclaim
to everybody promiscuously, including people who are professed
unbelievers, that God has a wonderful plan for their lives. God did not
have a wonderful plan for Esau (Rom. 9:10-13). He did not have a
wonderful plan for Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17-18). He does not have a
wonderful plan for the reprobate.
But we are not going to talk about God’s love as such
or whom He loves. In this article we are answering the question: Does
God desire to save everybody? or, more specifically, Does God really
desire to save the reprobate?
The majority of people who take the name Christian
believe that God desires to save everybody. Obviously, Arminians believe
this for Arminians deny biblical election and reprobation. The Arminian
teaches that salvation or non-salvation depends ultimately on the
alleged free will of the sinner. This is the case with contemporary
Arminians in the world today, and this was the case with the Arminians
at the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). At the Synod of Dordt, the Arminians
clearly stated the position called the free offer—that God desires to
save everybody. But the Synod of Dordt did not take that position.
The Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians in the early church
taught that God desires to save everybody. The Roman Catholic Church
also insists that God desires and wishes to save everybody. Arminians
and Romanists believe the same thing on these points.
However, many who claim to be Calvinists also believe
that God desires to save everybody. Therefore at this point their
teaching is the same as the Arminians and the Roman Catholics. They
teach that God desires to save the reprobate, although that is not the
way they will typically frame it. That lets the cat out of the bag,
because it is like saying that God desires to save those whom He has
chosen not to save, or God desires to save those whom He does not desire
to save because they are reprobate.
Those who do not hold this view that God desires to
save the reprobate, commonly called the free offer or the well-meant
offer, are told that they cannot truly preach the gospel. If this were
true, this is a very serious, even damning, indictment. Then the epithet
"hyper-Calvinist" is used. These professed Calvinists, who maintain that
there is a desire or wish or will in the very being of God to save the
reprobate, teach that this is sincere, for God earnestly wants to save
them. They make it clear that this is not just an apparent desire. This
is a real desire. In fact, this is an ardent desire. God patiently,
longingly wants to save absolutely everybody. This is the teaching even
of Professor John Murray. In many things he is a fine teacher, but he is
sadly astray at this point. He states that God wants to save everybody,
and then adds the adjectives: ardently, sincerely, passionately.2
If God wants to do something, and God is the one who tells us,
"Whatsoever thy hand findest to do, do it with all thy might" (Ecc.
9:10), then God must be ardent about it. There are no half-hearted
measures with God.
II. The Elements in Salvation
I will give you an analogy. Let us picture a man who
says, "I want to go to church on Sunday. I really want to go." Then
comes Sunday morning, and the alarm goes. He knocks it off and rolls
over. He does not get up and pray and prepare his heart for public
worship. He does not dress as he would for going to church. He does not
hop in the car. He stays at home. Now, he said that he really
wanted to go to church. But he did not do anything that indicated that
he really wanted to go to church. Did he really want to go to church? At
best, it was but a half-hearted desire or notion, for he did not go.
Or take another instance, a man says, "I really want
to go to church on the Lord’s Day." He does get up, he eats his
breakfast, he gets dressed but then he goes to watch a rugby match.
Did that man really want to go to church? You know what he really wanted
to do? He really wanted to go to the rugby match and that is why he went
there. Because it is not what a man says but it is what he
does that indicates most his desires.
We are told that God really, sincerely, ardently wants to save
everybody including the reprobate. The whole doctrine of salvation
includes many different elements. So we ask the question, Does God take
any of the steps? There are certain requisite measures, things that have
to be done if man is to be saved. Does God do all of these
things, or many of these things, or some of these things
or any of these things? Because although salvation is one, it
consists of many distinct elements, as we shall see.
I ask you, What is the very beginning or origin of
salvation? The very beginning of salvation, as the Bible teaches us, is
God’s eternal decree: some are elected and some are reprobated. We are
told that God really wants to save everybody. But does God elect
everybody to be saved? "No." Does God then leave the future of the
non-elect indeterminate? Again the answer is "No." He does not leave it
indeterminate. He eternally decrees—this is a terrible thing; we tremble
at this—that the reprobate will live in sin all their days and they will
be punished for their sin for the manifestation of God’s justice (Rom.
9:21-22). Jesus says in Matthew 11:25-26 that God eternally purposed to
hide the truth of the gospel from their hearts. And Jesus calls this
good, that which pleases God. God judged that it was good not to save
these people but to punish them for their sins.
But, as I said, we are told that God sincerely and
ardently wants to save the reprobate. The first response that we have to
this idea, on the basis of our consideration of election and
reprobation, is that it certainly does not look as if God wants to save
the reprobate for He does not take the initial step (electing them), and
without this initial step, they cannot be saved. Supposedly He really
and ardently wants them for His people, but He does not choose them for
His people. In fact, He decrees that they not be His people. He decrees
that though some of them will hear the gospel, they will not believe it,
and He actually blinds them and hides the truth from their hearts. God
actually purposes that there are two types of people. There is the seed
of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). God Himself puts
enmity, hatred and opposition between the two parties, and that is
obviously a reflection of God’s opposition to the seed of the serpent
too. So if God does not decree to save the reprobate, then they cannot
be saved. It is utterly impossible.
Let us look at a second element in salvation. What is
the basis or ground of our salvation? The perfectly righteous life of
Jesus Christ and His atoning death on the cross, for the Scriptures
teach clearly that all men are guilty sinners worthy of everlasting
punishment. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze. 18:20).
Therefore, as God teaches us in His Word, the only way of salvation is
through the blood of Jesus Christ—propitiation, sacrifice, atonement and
redemption in Christ and Christ alone. But the Scriptures teach that,
according to God’s purpose, Jesus Christ died only for the elect. The
Bible declares that He died for His own, for the many, for His friends,
for the sheep. Jesus, after explaining that the good shepherd lays down
His life for the sheep, says to the Pharisees, "ye believe not, because
ye are not of my sheep" (John 10:26). Consider this syllogism: (1) Jesus
said, "I am going to die for my sheep." (2) He added, referring to the
Pharisees, "You are not my sheep." (3) Therefore Jesus did not die for
them. They are goats. The shepherd died for the sheep and not for the
goats. This is what the Son of God told them and tells us. This is
biblical and Reformed doctrine.
We are told, however, that God earnestly, ardently
desires to save the reprobate. But a man cannot be saved without the
blood of the cross being shed for him, and God did not send His Son to
die for the sins of the reprobate. Or, to look at it from another
perspective, the Bible teaches that the cross of Christ is a ransom.
God’s people were in prison and Christ paid the ransom to release us.
Now I’ll give you an analogy. Mr. X is in prison. If a ransom is paid,
Mr. X will be released. Mr. Y says, "Mr. X, I really want to ransom you.
I have the money at my disposal." But although Mr. Y could have ransomed
Mr. X, he chose not to. Thus we have to ask, Did Mr. Y really, ardently
and sincerely desire to ransom Mr. X? The answer is "No," because he did
not do it.
Let us move on from election and atonement to the
very beginning of the application of salvation—regeneration. The sinner
is totally depraved, "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1), without
any spiritual life and "wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined
to all wickedness" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 8). God quickens His
elect, giving them life. The Bible calls this the "new birth" or being
"born again." It is evident that there is no salvation without the new
birth, because Jesus says, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7;
cf. v. 5). If you are not born again, you are not saved.
We are told that God really desires and wants to save
the reprobate. But does God regenerate them? No. Jesus declared, "The
wind bloweth where it listeth [i.e., where it wills], and thou hearest
the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it
goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). The wind
blows where it wants. You do not say to the wind, "Could you blow in
that field, but not blow in my garden." The wind does what it wills.
Jesus here is drawing an analogy between the blowing of the wind and the
blowing of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. He blows where He wills or
wants or desires. The Greek word, thelo,
encompasses all three of those ideas. The Spirit regenerates whom He
wills or wants or desires. He desires to regenerate this one, and He
actually regenerates them. He does not regenerate that one. Why? Because
He does not desire, wish or want to regenerate that one. The Spirit
blows where He wills, and He does not blow where He does not will to
blow. But if God sincerely wishes to save everybody, why does the Spirit
not blow where He supposedly wants to blow?
D. Spiritual Illumination
Let us move on to another point: spiritual
illumination or enlightenment, the ability to see the kingdom of heaven
by faith. This is a vital part of salvation also. In Matthew 11:25-26,
Jesus says, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because
thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast
revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy
So why did God hide the truth of the gospel from the
reprobate? Answer: "for so it seemed good in thy sight." The "for" gives
us the reason: it seemed good in God’s sight. It was a sovereign choice
of His, and it pleased Him. To say it pleased God means that God desired
to do it; that is what He willed and wished and wanted to do. Now
obviously it was not that He wanted or desired to reveal these things to
the reprobate. He rather wanted and willed and desired to hide these
things from them, as it seemed good to Him. In fact, the will of God
regarding the reprobate in this life is expressed very clearly for us in
Romans 9:18: "whom he will he hardeneth." This is the operation of God
upon the reprobate in time. Election results, in time, in the softening
and illumination of God’s people. The eternal decree of reprobation
issues, in time, in the person being hardened. And that, too, is the
argument of Romans 9.
Let us also consider Matthew 11:27. There Christ goes
on to say, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man
knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father,
save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." The
word "will" in the last clause is not referring to the future; it is not
merely saying that those to whom the Son shall (in days ahead) reveal
the Father will know the Father. "Will" here is the Greek boulomai,
speaking of what the Son wishes or wants or desires to do. Thus no one
knows the Father—which is eternal life (John 17:3)—except those to whom
the Son wishes or wants or desires to reveal Him. But if the Christ, the
incarnate Son, really
desired to save everybody—as the advocates of the free offer teach—why
does He not grant them saving knowledge of the Triune God?
To summarize, the Bible teaches that God/Christ
wishes or wants or desires to illumine spiritually the elect (Matt.
11:27) and so He reveals Himself to them (v. 25). On the other hand,
God/Christ hides these things from the reprobate, who foolishly reckon
themselves "wise and prudent" (v. 25). Both divine actions, Christ
explains, "seemed good in [God's] sight," being according to God's
eternal, sovereign and righteous decree (v. 26).
E. Repentance and Faith
The way of salvation is the way of repentance and
faith. Repentance is turning from sin, and faith is trusting in Jesus
Christ and receiving righteousness in Him. Advocates of the well-meant
offer maintain that God really wants to save the reprobate. However, God
does not give them repentance and He does not give them faith, divine
gifts, wholly at His disposal (Acts 5:31; 11:18; Phil. 1:29). There is
no salvation and there is no experience of salvation without these
things. But if God really wanted to save them, why did He not
give them repentance and faith?
F. Calling, Justification and Glorification
Let us consider that great apostolic summary of
salvation in Romans 8:30: "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he
also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he
justified, them he also glorified." Four things are spoken of here:
predestination, calling, justification and glorification. Obviously God
desires to save those He predestinated. Those He predestinated, those He
also called, those He also justified, and those He also glorified. So
those whom God predestinates or elects are those He wants to save; there
is no doubt about that. Therefore He calls them, He justifies them, and
He glorifies them. But God does not call, does not justify and does not
glorify the reprobate. So what sense does it make to say that God
desires to save the reprobate (i.e., to predestinate, call, justify and
glorify them) when He does not do any of the things?
G. Membership in the (Invisible) Church
Salvation, Scripture teaches us, also includes
membership in the (invisible) church of Jesus Christ. Christ is the head
and His church is His body. The elect together constitute all the parts
of His body, and it is a perfect body, a body in which all the parts are
properly proportioned and fit together perfectly. This glorified body
will be presented to Christ without its having even a wrinkle (Eph.
5:27). This is a mighty work of God’s grace. Why would God want Christ’s
body, which He has decreed to be perfect, to have added to it other
parts and members? We have two ears. Would you want to have a third ear?
We have one nose. Would you like a second one? Why would God decree and
purpose a glorious church with a perfectly formed body and then desire
to add to it other body parts which would deform the body?
To use another biblical figure for the church, the
church is a temple, with every elect child of God a living stone in the
temple. This temple is of perfect design and structure. But if God
really wants to save everybody, then He wants to make them members and
parts of His temple. Why would He want more stones for His temple than
He in His wisdom has determined? Where would all these stones go? To put
these stones in the temple would spoil the temple. Why would the
all-wise God want that?
H. Covenant Friendship
The whole of salvation is summed up as covenant
friendship with the true God. The free offer position holds that God
ardently and sincerely wants to save the reprobate. This means He
ardently and sincerely wants to make them His covenant friends. But He
does not make them His covenant friends. Instead, He puts enmity between
the seed of the woman (Christ and His church) and the reprobate seed of
the serpent (Gen. 3:15). God wants to make them His friends, but He does
not make them His friends. This presents God like a little boy in the
playground who desperately wants so and so to be his friend. But he does
not actually end up with that person becoming his friend at all. This
cannot be Almighty God, the Lord of heaven and earth!
Listen to Psalm 11:5-7: "The wicked and him that
loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares,
fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion
of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his
countenance doth behold the upright."
Does this sound as if God wants to make the reprobate
His friends? He says that His soul hates them, that is, God hates them
in His inmost soul to the depths of His being and with all His heart.3
All mankind is polluted, filthy and defiled outside of Jesus Christ, and
only the elect are loved in Christ who alone is righteous. Thus God
pours out snares, fire, brimstone and an horrible tempest upon the
wicked. This is the portion of their cup. This is a strange way for God
to treat those whom He earnestly wants to become His friends!
III. Hitler, Antichrist, Etc.
We need to analyze further the free offer position
that God really desires to save the reprobate, all the reprobate,
head for head.
A. Hitler and Stalin
If He earnestly wants to save
absolutely everybody, then God desired to regenerate and sanctify Hitler
and Stalin. Do we really want to say this? God raised up these wicked
rulers (cf. Rom. 9:17), according to His eternal
purpose in world history (Eph. 1:11) to manifest His judgments in the
earth in war and slaughter and famine and disease (Rev. 6:4-8). But now
we are told that God sincerely and ardently wished, wanted and desired
to save Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot and all the rest!
B. Antichrist and Judas
If He earnestly wants to save everybody, then God not
only desired to regenerate and sanctify Hitler and Stalin, but He also
wishes to effectually call and justify Antichrist, because Antichrist
too is part of the "everybody." Yet the purpose of God in the coming of
Jesus Christ is to destroy Antichrist with the brightness of His coming
(II Thess. 2:8)! If God desires to save everybody then He wanted to
glorify Judas who is called "the son of perdition" (John 17:12).
"Perdition" is perishing, the perishing of hell. Judas was the son of
hell, as one eternally destined for hell, who by his sins heaped up
wrath for himself in hell. But we are told that God really wanted to
save Judas. What sort of foolishness is this?
C. Esau and Pharaoh
If God desires to save everybody, then He wanted
covenant fellowship with Esau. Yet Scripture says, "Jacob have I loved,
but Esau have I hated" (Rom. 9:13). So God wants to commune with people
whom He hates! This would also mean that God wanted to save the Pharaoh
of the exodus, of whom we read in Romans 9:17: "Even for this same
purpose [singular] have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in
thee." God’s purpose and desire with Pharaoh was not to save him; God’s
purpose and desire with Pharaoh was to destroy him in the Red Sea in
order to magnify His power in the eyes of mankind, including us today!
This is in effect what God said to Pharaoh: "Pharaoh, I have given you
the throne of Egypt, a mighty kingdom. I have given you riches, many
thousands of servants, and a massive army. By my providence, you are
engaged in great building projects. I
have raised you up. And I have done it for one purpose. I have not
raised you up and given you these things because I love you and want to
save you. I have raised you up to show my might in destroying you. ‘Even
for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power
in thee, and that my name might be declared in all the earth.’"
Moreover, these last two men of whom I have spoken,
Esau and Pharaoh, are not one-off cases. Esau and Pharaoh are set forth
to illustrate God’s dealings with all the reprobate, just as all
the true sons of Abraham are like Jacob beloved of God even in their
mother’s womb (Rom. 9:11, 13). From the particular case of Pharaoh (Rom.
9:17), the inspired Scripture draws a universal rule regarding all the
reprobate: "whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9:18). All the reprobate
are hated by God in the way of their sins (as Esau), and, through all
the earthly good they receive (as Pharaoh), God is raising them up to
destroy them and magnify His own glorious sovereignty, justice and power
(Rom. 9:21-22; Westminster Confession 3:7).
IV. The Character of God
This idea that God earnestly wants to save the
reprobate has terrible consequences for our understanding and knowledge
of God. Sadly, many embrace the free offer without thinking through its
implications concerning the character of the Most High.
A. The Failing God
Just think about it: God’s desire to save the
reprobate has failed with millions, nay billions, of people. God
earnestly wanted to save billions but they perish. God’s desire to save
everybody has failed with the majority of people. God’s ardent wish to
save everybody has failed for over 6,000 years. Moreover, if God’s will
to save them fails, God Himself fails.
B. The Frustrated God
Not only does God fail, but logically God is also
frustrated (to speak as a fool). For to the extent that one’s desires
are not carried out, one is frustrated, and the greater the desire, the
greater the frustration. If a weak desire is unfulfilled, one is
slightly disappointed or frustrated. If God’s ardent, sincere and
earnest desire to save billions of reprobate fails, then God would be
deeply frustrated, for the 6,000 or so years since the creation.4
C. The Contradictory God
Moreover, according to the free offer, God not only
fails, and God not only is frustrated, but God is also contradictory. He
passionately wants to save the reprobate, we are told, but He does not
elect them; He reprobates them. He really desires to bring them out of
spiritual jail, but He does not pay the ransom for them. He sincerely
wants to give them the new birth, but He wills that the life-giving
Spirit not blow on them. He ardently desires that they grasp the truth
of the gospel, without which there can be no salvation, but He hides the
truth from them, and this, Jesus says, "is good in [God’s] sight" (Matt.
11:25-26). He really wants to save Pharaoh, yet He raises him up in
order that He might destroy him. The free-offer god is a contradictory
D. The Lying God
Logically, the free offer not only portrays God as
failing, frustrated and contradictory, but it also makes God a liar. For
it says that He earnestly wants to save the reprobate, yet He takes
absolutely none of the necessary steps to save them. Earlier I mentioned
some ten or so elements of salvation—and I could have mentioned
others—yet God does not work even one of them! Moreover, there are many
people who never even hear the gospel during their lifetime, yet we are
told that God sincerely and ardently wanted to save them!
I remind you of the illustration I used above of the
man who said that he really wanted to go to church, but he took none of
the necessary steps and went to the rugby match instead. Did he really
want to go to church? No. His actions falsified his claims. The man who
says he earnestly desires to go to church but goes to watch a rugby
match is telling lies. Similarly, the god who says that he earnestly
desires to save the reprobate but does nothing to effect their salvation
and instead reprobates and hardens them is telling lies. To speak more
accurately, the people who portray God as sincerely desiring to save the
reprobate are lying about God, for His Word reveals that He does not do
any of the things necessary to effect this alleged desire.
V. The Attributes of God
To go a step further, the failing, frustrated, contradictory, lying
god who is said earnestly to desire to save the reprobate is not really
God at all, for He does not have the attributes or perfections of God.
A. God’s Unity
The true God is absolutely one in His essence or
nature. That God is one means is that He is one in mind, will and
desire. He does not have two desires or two wills or two minds. We are
called to hearken to the truth of God’s perfect unity or simplicity:
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deut. 6:4). "Hear,
O Israel"—God is telling us something very important. "Hear, O Israel"
means "Hear, church of Christ," because Israel was the church in the Old
Testament. "Hear, O church, the Lord our God is one Lord, with
one mind and one will and not two minds or two wills (Job 23:13) as the
free offer portrays Him, because He is God and God is one!"
B. God’s Immutability
Think too of the immutability or the unchangeableness
of God. According to the free offer, in time God desires to save the
reprobate. But if you are going to hold to the truth of reprobation—a
biblical and Reformed doctrine—you have to hold that God in "eternity
past" did not choose or will to save the reprobate, because He
reprobated them. Then, in "eternity future," when the reprobate are
in hell, clearly God does not will to save them.
The free offer position says that God passionately
wants to save them, yet He reprobates them before the foundation of the
world. So before the creation, He does not want to save them, but
then in time He does want to save them, but when they die He
does not want to save them. He does not want to save them, but then
He does want to save them, but then He does not want to save them. If
that is not change, then I do not know what is. The Bible says that
there is "no shadow of turning" with God (James 1:17). God does not
change. There is not even a flicker of His shadow as if God shifted just
slightly and His shadow moved a little bit. There is absolutely "no
shadow of turning" with God.
Nor did God decree a sequence of dispositions in
Himself so that He would not desire in "eternity past," desire in time,
and not desire in "eternity future," to save the reprobate. God cannot
change nor can He decree to change. God decrees things outside of
Himself. God does not decree Himself or His dispositions. God is
Himself. The decree pertains to everything outside
of Himself, not Himself at all. He is the decreeing Creator; the
universe is the decreed creation.
C. God’s Power
What about God’s power? Job 23:13 declares, "What his
soul desireth, even that he doeth." There is an absolutely perfect
correspondence between God’s desire and what He does. If He does it, it
is because He desired it. If He desires it, then He does it. If He does
not desire something, He does not do it. If He does not do something, He
did not desire it. This is the absolutely perfect correspondence between
God’s desire and what He does. What His soul desireth, even that (and no
other) He doeth.
Listen to Psalm 135:6: "Whatsoever the Lord pleased,
that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places."
"Whatsoever the Lord pleased"—this is the realm of God’s desires, His
wishes, His wants. "Whatsoever the Lord pleased that did He." He did it
"in heaven," He did it "in earth," He did it "in the sea," and He did it
"in all the deep places."
Similarly, Psalm 115:3 testifies, "But our God is in
the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased." A God who does
not do whatever He pleases is not God, and He certainly is not in the
heavens. But our God is in the heavens! Whatsoever He pleased, He does.
Psalm 115 presents the true God over against idols. The idols have eyes
but they do not see; they have ears but do not hear; they have hands but
they do not do anything; they have feet but they do not move (vv. 5-7).
But our God, He is in the heavens. He does whatsoever He pleases.
Whatever He pleases, He does. Whatever He does, it is because He is
pleased to do it. There is nothing that He wants to do, wills to do, is
pleased to do and does not do, because "our God is in the heavens: he
hath done whatsoever he hath pleased."
In Augustine’s treatment of election and reprobation
in sections xciv-ciii of his Enchiridion he refutes the free
offer, using similar arguments as advanced in this article, from God’s
unity, immutability and power, and twice quotes Psalm 115:3:
And assuredly there was no injustice in God’s not
willing that they should be saved, though they could have been saved
had He so willed it. Then shall be seen in the clearest light of
wisdom what with the pious is now a faith, though it is not yet a
matter of certain knowledge, how sure, how unchangeable, and how
effectual is the will of God; how many things He can do which He
does not will to do, though willing nothing which He cannot perform;
and how true is the song of the psalmist, "But our God is in the
heavens; He has done whatsoever He has pleased." And this certainly
is not true, if God has ever willed anything that He has not
performed; and, still worse, if it was the will of man that hindered
the Omnipotent from doing what He pleased. Nothing, therefore,
happens but by the will of the Omnipotent, He either permitting it
to be done, or Himself doing it .... so long as we are not compelled
to believe that the omnipotent God has willed anything to be done
which was not done: for setting aside all ambiguities, if "He has
done all that He pleased in heaven and in earth," as the psalmist
sings of Him, He certainly did not will to do anything that He has
D. God’s Wisdom
Moving on from God’s power, we turn to His wisdom.
What is the wisdom of God? It is His adapting everything to the glory of
His name. In His wisdom, God fulfills all His plans and desires.
Unfulfilled desires not only mean limited power but also limited wisdom.
There are some things that we would like to do. But
things do not work out that way. It shows that we have not the perfect
wisdom to dispose and arrange everything in our lives; that we are
lacking in some area. God’s wisdom means that all His desires and wishes
and wants for the entire universe are always perfectly fulfilled. The
idea that God desires to save the reprobate conflicts with the wisdom of
God because, although He desires to save the reprobate, He does not
adapt all things for their salvation. Instead all things, including
reprobation (Rom. 9), prosperity (Ps. 73), and preaching (II Cor.
2:15-17), are always perfectly adapted for their destruction.
Not only does the free offer have terrible consequences for one's
doctrine of God, but it also has terrible consequences regarding
When the free offer is held and thought through and
applied to other aspects of a person’s theology, doctrinally and
historically, reprobation has to go. For if God really wants to save
everybody, then would He decree that some not be saved? Think about it.
God really wants to save everybody, but what does He do? He chooses not
to save them. These two things do not fit. This argument, that a desire
of God to save everybody overthrows the eternal decree of reprobation,
has won the day in most Presbyterian and Reformed churches. The
Christian Reformed Church in North America embraced the free offer and
made it binding doctrine in 1924. Henry R. Boer came to their 1974 Synod
saying, "Hold on a minute, if God really wants to save everybody,
why does our confession state that God eternally chose not to save some
people?" The Synod could not stand against that free offer argument.
Head I of the Canons of Dordt on (election and) reprobation (with
its Rejection of Errors) became a dead letter.
Moreover, what of the preacher of the free offer who
claims to be a Calvinist? Before God and man, he must boldly and
unashamedly proclaim the biblical and Reformed doctrine of sovereign,
unconditional, double predestination. Yet he believes that God ardently
desires to save the reprobate. His is the difficult task of preaching
two contradictory messages and trying to reconcile them some way both in
his own mind and in those of his hearers.6 No easy task! In
the face of this conundrum and given the more palatable nature of the
free offer (both to his own sinful flesh and to Arminian hearers), it is
no wonder that both in the preaching and in the minds of the preacher
and people, the truth of reprobation recedes into the background as an
indistinct and hazy doctrine, loaded with all sorts of difficulties and
problems. The seven lean kine eat up the seven fat kine, for biblical
reprobation is silenced as the alleged passionate desire of the Almighty
to save everybody takes centre stage.
B. Limited Atonement
Another doctrine to go, logically and historically,
is the doctrine of limited or particular atonement. Think about it. God
really desires and wants to save everybody. But salvation is impossible
unless Christ dies for them. Then surely God must have sent the Lord
Jesus to die for everybody. Thus we have the heresy of universal
atonement which the Canons of Dordt describe, in connection with
the whole doctrine of Arminianism, as the Pelagian heresy dragged out of
hell (Canons II:R:3).
In the 1960s Harold Dekker of the Christian Reformed
Church argued, "Hold on a minute, if God really wants to save
everybody, and the creeds say that Christ died for the elect only, we
have a problem. Since God really wants to save everybody—if that means
anything at all—then He must have sent Christ to die for everybody."
Thus today you have alleged Calvinists quoting John
3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,"
and arguing for a love of God in the cross of Christ for everybody.
Never mind that this is one of the key texts that the Arminians abuse,
and that modern so-called Calvinists actually agree with their
interpretation of John 3:16. Then they say, "We are the true Calvinists
and people who do not hold to the free offer are hyper-Calvinists." The
definitions are changing; Scripture is being twisted; people are being
C. Irresistible Grace
Irresistible grace is the fourth point of Calvinism.
The notion that God ardently desires to save everybody, including the
reprobate, is by definition a resistible grace. God ardently desires to
save everybody—there is some sort of grace for the reprobate, a
resistible and always resisted grace. Thus, you have a resistible grace
an irresistible grace—two graces. What in the world are two graces?
There is one God. One God has one grace. But the free offer teaches
two graces. There is a resistible grace and there is an irresistible
grace. What is happening here?
D. Total Depravity
What about total depravity? If God wants to save
everybody, why is everybody not saved? Maybe they rejected God’s grace
while other people were a bit more willing. This is how free will comes
in. This departure takes you further over the line between God’s truth
and error, and a lot of people who wish to hold on to the free offer and
some form of Calvinism would repudiate it. But that is where it has gone
with many people, and that is where it is going with other people.
E. Logical Inconsistencies
From all this, it is evident that Calvinism, the
truth of God’s sovereign particular grace as taught in Scripture and
summed in the Canons of Dordt, and free offer theology are not
consistent and cannot be reconciled. There are many advocates of the
free offer who are very explicit about this. "Calvinism and a desire of
God to save the reprobate," they acknowledge, "I can not square them. I
can not make them fit." However, instead of concluding, "Hold on, there
is a problem here, since God’s truth is one and always consistent," they
declare, "It is a paradox, a mystery, an antimony." What they really
mean is that it is a downright contradiction. But they gave it a fancy
sounding word; they say it is a mystery or a paradox.
A desire of God to save the reprobate has been taught
and promoted in Reformed circles especially in the last 100 years, and
still no one has managed to show how the free offer and the Synod of
Dordt’s five points of Calvinism (including their "Rejection of Errors")
fit. Yet all true doctrines, like the doctrines of the Trinity; the
Deity, Person and two natures of Christ; creation; providence;
irresistible grace; etc., are not contradictory but coherent.
Consistency is a mark of truth; contradiction is a mark of the lie.
Moreover, principles work through. False doctrine,
especially as it is more fully incorporated into one’s theology and
preached and defended, will seriously affect one’s knowledge of the true
and living God. In the history of the church and in the faith and lives
of professing Christians this is clearly seen.
Here is one example. In seventeenth-century France,
there was a heretic called Moses Amyraut. Amyraut's doctrine came to be
called Amyraldianism or Hypothetical Universalism. Amyraut taught that
there were two elections pertaining to the salvation of mankind.
The first election is God’s choice of absolutely everybody to be saved,
on condition that they believe. But, of course, nobody will believe
because we are all totally depraved. So God has a second election
according to which He chooses to save those to whom He will give faith.
What a contorted system! Amyraut also taught a double-reference theory
of Christ’s atonement. Christ died for absolutely everybody head for
head, if they believe. But nobody will believe, because all are
in the bondage of iniquity. So God sent Christ to make atonement for the
sins of those to whom He will give faith, those predestinated. Amyraut
claimed that this was true Calvinism, the doctrine of John Calvin,
founded upon the sacred Scriptures.
Within a relatively short time, through this
Amyraldian "modification" of Calvinism, the Reformed church in France
headed further towards Arminianism. Amyraldianism divided the church and
sapped its spiritual power. The church’s synods were not strong enough
to deal with it. One analyst and historian of Gallic Calvinism called
Amyraut "the gravedigger of the French Reformed Church."7 If
you go to France today, you would never guess that at one point almost
half the country was Calvinistic. Why are there so few Reformed churches
in France? Why are the few French Reformed churches so weak doctrinally?
It started with Amyraut and his "modified Calvinism." He was the
gravedigger and Amyraldianism was his spade. Principles work through.
Free offer theology and preaching finds its most
suitable soil amongst those who do not know, love and rejoice in the
robust biblical and Reformed doctrine of God—His perfect unity, His
absolute immutability, His irresistible power, His infinite wisdom, and
His sovereign decree—and the sharply antithetical Calvinism of the
Canons of Dordt. Thus, in our day of great departure, many in
nominally evangelical and Reformed churches who are not properly
grounded in the truth are wide open to the free offer. This way they can
claim to be Calvinistic and Reformed and compromise with
Arminians and Arminianism. You can have your cake and eat it!
VII. A Useless Doctrine
Ironically, apart from undermining the truth of God
and His sovereign grace, the free offer does not actually do anything
positive. According to God’s eternal decree the number of the elect and
the number of the reprobate are unchangeably fixed (Westminster
Confession 3:4; Canons I:11). The elect are saved by God’s
irresistible grace in Christ and the reprobate perish in their sin and
The free offer does not actually save anybody.
The free offer has not saved anybody; not one single person has
ever been saved by the free offer. The free offer will not save
anybody. Why? Because the free offer cannot save anybody. It
cannot save even one single person by definition. The free offer
is a desire of God to save the reprobate, but the reprobate by
definition cannot be saved! Thus God has a fervent desire to save those
who cannot be saved. He has an ardent passion to save those whom He
decreed cannot be saved. What a strange and useless doctrine! Yet,
according to its advocates, unless you preach it, you are not truly
preaching the gospel! That is, unless you preach a weak and always
resisted desire of God to save those who can not be saved according to
God’s eternal reprobation, you are not really preaching the gospel. You
are then denounced as a hyper-Calvinist! Yet the biblical and Reformed
"gospel of Christ" is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that
believeth" (Rom. 1:16)! That is why we are "not ashamed" of it (v. 16)
and that is why the free offer is such a shameful parody of the "gospel
of the [irresistible] grace of God" (Acts 20:24) of apostolic
Note the radical differences between free offer
theology and "the true grace of God" (I Peter 5:12). The free offer is
resistible and always resisted; God’s grace is always irresistible. The
free offer is ineffectual and always ineffectual; God’s grace is always
effectual. The free offer is finite and has not saved anybody or brought
one single sinner even an inch nearer the kingdom of heaven; God’s grace
is omnipotent and always saves. The free offer is a changeable, temporal
grace; God’s grace is unchangeable and eternal, "for his mercy endureth
forever" (Ps. 136:1-26).
So how can this alleged desire of God to save the
reprobate really be ascribed to the true and living God? By definition,
the free offer is a resistible, impotent, changeable and temporal grace,
whereas the true grace of God is irresistible, omnipotent, unchangeable
and eternal. The free offer has the attributes of the Arminian god, that
is the attributes of man: resistible, impotent, changeable, and
There is always this tendency in the church to make
God more like ourselves. In Psalm 50, God rebukes Israel, "thou
thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself" (v. 21). For
this sin of making a god after their own image, God says that He will
"reprove" them (v. 21) and "tear [them] in pieces" (v. 22).
VIII. A "Useful" Doctrine
Though the free offer itself is not part of that
"doctrine which is according to godliness" (I Tim. 6:3) through which
the Son of God "gathers, defends and preserves" His church (Heidelberg
Catechism, A. 54), it does have its "uses" for its advocates.
It is "useful" with regard to evangelism. Consider a
professing Calvinist who holds the free offer. He has, in effect, two
gospels. There is Calvinism which teaches God’s particular grace in
election, in the cross, in regeneration, in justification, in
preservation, in glorification, etc. There is also free offerism and
Arminianism: "God loves you and wants to save you."
From my time as a student at Queen’s University in
Belfast, I remember a young man who was an exponent of this same
two-track theology. In witnessing to unbelieving students, he would come
with this line: "God loves you and wants to save you." Yet when he was
talking to me, he would say he was a Calvinist and produce his Calvinist
credentials. But God’s sovereign grace was not his message to the
unconverted. He had two different messages for two different parties. I
brought the same gospel to all, unconverted or converted, for there only
is one gospel of God’s sovereign grace (Acts 20:24).
You can see how this nicer, softer, gentler,
non-threatening approach is much "easier" for the Christian to adopt as
he approaches unbelievers. Just tell them that God loves them and wants
to save them! Oh, how "useful" the free offer is! It avoids the biblical
offence in evangelism: the reproach of the cross, the offence of the
gospel. I am not saying, of course, that we should be offensive in
evangelism. No, we must be gracious, "speaking the truth in love"
(Eph. 4:15). But we must speak "the truth in love" and not the
lie. What ought we testify? "… ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord,
that I am God" (Isa. 43:12). We have no authority to witness of a
failing, frustrated, contradictory, lying god who is not perfectly one,
immutable, omnipotent and wise, that is, a god who does not save the
reprobate even though he ardently and passionately desires to do so. We
proclaim that God is God, not that He is altogether such an one as
ourselves (Ps. 50:21).
B. Fellowship with Arminians
Not only is the free offer "useful" in evangelism,
but it is also "useful" in enabling fellowship with Arminians. Let us be
quite clear about this: Calvinism, as summed in the Canons of Dordt,
teaches that Arminianism is not an alternative form of the gospel but
deadly heresy. Yet most free offer men who claim to be Calvinists (and
who dub those who do not agree with them "hyper-Calvinists") praise
Arminians like John Wesley who hated Calvinism—God’s sovereign grace in
Jesus Christ!—with a passion and who called predestination "blasphemy."8
John Wesley told people that they should never go to any church that
teaches Jesus Christ died for the elect alone. He even said—in so many
words!—that the blood of Christ was shed for people who go to hell.9
His brother, Charles Wesley, wrote many hymns opposing election,
reprobation, particular atonement, irresistible grace, etc. In praising
Arminians, like John and Charles Wesley, "free offer Calvinists," like
Iain Murray, reveal that theirs is not the orthodox, biblical Calvinism
of the Canons of Dordt.10
The vast majority of "free offer Calvinists"
fellowship with Arminians. See how useful the free offer is! You can
claim to be a Calvinist (thus gaining a name for orthodoxy) and keep the
Arminians happy by preaching a love and desire of God reaching out for
the salvation of everybody. Thus you do not have to take a stand for the
truth of God against the lie of Arminianism, and you can fellowship with
those who deny the truth of the gospel.
It ought to be pointed out too that the vast majority
of "free offer Calvinists" have Arminians in their churches as members
or even deacons, elders or ministers. These "free offer Calvinists"
refuse to admonish and discipline them, even though their own
confessions teach that Arminianism is heresy. Their pulpits are
significantly silent regarding the heresy of Arminianism, yet those who
hold the pure, antithetical Calvinism of the Canons of Dordt
are denounced as hyper-Calvinists!
John Owen rightly warns against fellowship with
Arminians and their free willism: "One church cannot wrap in her
communion Austin [i.e., Augustine] and Pelagius, Calvin and Arminius."11
Those who hold to the truth of God’s sovereign, particular grace in
Christ must not seek a carnal peace with Arminians:
The sacred bond of peace compasseth only the
unity of that Spirit which leadeth into all truth. We must not offer
the right hand of fellowship, but rather proclaim ... "a holy war,"
to such enemies of God’s providence, Christ’s merit, and the
powerful operation of the Holy Spirit.12
Those who tolerate Arminians in their congregations
and berate those who hold to God’s unadulterated sovereign grace as
"hyper-Calvinists" reveal that they are not true Calvinists. Their
criticism of those who love and maintain the truth of the Canons of
Dordt ought to be exposed for what it is: sheer hypocrisy.
We ought to say, though, that there are other people,
who have been told by those with a reputation for orthodoxy that God
loves everybody and wants to save everybody, and who have simply
accepted the free offer without really having thought about it. Now is
the time to search the Scriptures and try the free offer spirits (Act
17:11; I John 4:1)!
IX. The Biblical Position
What then is the reason for preaching the gospel, if
it is not a desire of God to save everybody? The command of God: "Go ye
into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark
16:15; cf. Matt. 28:18-20). The Lord exhorts us, "Preach! Proclaim to
the gospel to all!" The gospel is taught in all the word of God,
especially as it centres on Christ crucified, risen and exalted, and on
reconciliation, righteousness, forgiveness and peace though His cross.
This gospel comes with commands and exhortations. All those who hear the
gospel are commanded to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the only
saviour. The Bible requires us to call everybody to come to Christ for
salvation. Scripture uses words like repent, convert, turn or believe
and its synonyms, such as, trust, come, eat, drink, hear and look. These
exhortations are to be brought in the proclamation of the gospel of God.
The command of Matthew 11:28 ("Come unto me all ye
that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest") is more
specific, for here Jesus is specifically addressing those who "labour
and are heavy laden," those for whom sin and guilt have become a burden
that oppresses them, like an animal with a heavy load upon its back.
This sense of the burden of sin is itself the fruit of election (Canons
I:12). Jesus calls those who are burdened with their sins to believe in
Him to find rest. Come to Him with all your sins and guilt and shame!
All who flee to Christ in repentance and faith will certainly be saved
The Bible also teaches that we must address those who
are outside of Jesus Christ who do not feel the burden of sin. Turn from
your sins and come to Him! The minister should reprove and exhort the
unconcerned unconverted, calling them to repentance and faith.
Hyper-Calvinism, on the other hand, denies duty
repentance and duty faith, that everyone is to be called to forsake
their sin and to believe in Jesus Christ. We, however, teach duty
repentance and duty faith. God "commandeth all men everywhere to repent"
(Acts 17:30). All must repent. All must believe. If they do not repent
and do not believe, this is a heinous transgression that greatly offends
God. The Almighty is angry with this sin too, as well as all their other
sins. God’s wrath is particularly against the sin of unbelief because it
shows the stubbornness of man’s heart, his proud self-righteousness and
his despising the Father’s well-beloved Son. We oppose hyper-Calvinism
and preach against it. And yet we are called hyper-Calvinists for all
that! A new definition of hyper-Calvinism is drafted up and then
Reformed Christians and churches are falsely branded with this term of
opprobrium.14 Thus people do not have to study the issues.
Advocates of God’s particular grace are summarily dismissed as
hyper-Calvinists by many people who would be hard-pressed even to state
what Calvinism is.
B. Desiring the Salvation of Our Neighbour
This also needs to be stated: although God
does not desire the salvation of all men head for head, the
calling—your calling and my calling—is to desire the salvation of
our neighbours. This is biblical. The apostle Paul said to King Agrippa:
"I would to God, that not only thou, but also all those that hear me
this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these
bonds" (Acts 26:29). Paul desired or wished or wanted ("I would to God")
that everybody there (Agrippa and "also all those that hear me this
day") would become a Christian, though not a prisoner, like himself
("altogether such as I am, except these bonds"). This apostolic desire
is our example for emulation.
Paul says something similar in Romans 10:1 and at the
very start of Romans 9, that great chapter on unconditional, double
predestination (even in the generations of believers). First, he affirms
three times that he is speaking the truth: " I say the truth in
Christ,  I lie not,  my conscience also bearing me witness in the
Holy Ghost" (v. 1). His solemn assertion is that he is deeply grieved
and burdened: "That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my
heart" (v. 2). About what is he so heart-broken? "For I could wish that
myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according
to the flesh" (v. 3). In other words, the apostle so sincerely desired
the salvation of the Jews, his fellow countrymen, that if his going to
hell for them would achieve it, he would do it. This is an earnest and
ardent desire! This zeal puts all of us to shame. This is the passion of
the apostle Paul.
But this is Paul’s attitude or desire; not
God’s.15 Paul, of course, says I "could
wish," that is, "I know I can not perish for them and atone for their
sins. Only Christ can do that. But if I could, I would do it." The true
Christian also feels this; not to the extent that Paul did, for the
apostle was a particularly godly man. If, by our suffering, we could see
our unbelieving family members or neighbours or countrymen saved in
Christ, we would do it.16
But there is a difference between what we are called
to do as creatures and what God does as the Creator whose
will is one, undivided, sovereign, omnipotent and irresistible (Ps.
115:3; 135:6). This is a difference as high as heaven and a whole lot
higher, for He is Almighty God and we are but men of the dust.
God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate,
but He approves of and delights in people repenting and
believing. Unbelief and disobedience are sins before Him which He
detests. On the other hand, the righteous Sovereign approves of and
delights in faith and repentance and in people keeping the Ten
Commandments by hallowing His name, loving His truth, honouring their
But there is a vital distinction here. Truly, God
delights in people believing, repenting and keeping His
commandments. But to say that God desires the salvation of the
reprobate is not the same thing. This does not come to pass, and so the
Almighty is presented as having a frustrated desire, which is contrary
to His attributes, His decree and His blessedness.
Let me restate this, relating it to God’s will of
command and His will of decree:
1. God’s will of command (what He tells us we
must do—repent, believe and obey Him) indicates behaviour He
approves of, is pleased with and delights in as the infinitely just, righteous
and holy Lord.17
2. God’s will of decree (His eternal,
all-embracing purpose, including election, reprobation and
everything which comes to pass) expresses what He desires, wishes
and wants (and always affects for His glory), as the eternal,
unchangeable, omnipotent, all-wise and perfectly simple Jehovah.
The free offer position confuses God’s command to
unbelievers (some of whom are reprobate), indicating His approval,
delight and pleasure in repentance and faith, as meaning that He
the salvation of the reprobate (though He fails to affect this desire).
This error (wittingly or unwittingly) impugns God’s character, counsel
and salvation, as we have seen.
Moreover, it likens the Almighty to the lazy fool of
Proverbs 13:4: "The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing."
According to free offer theology, the "soul" of Jehovah ardently
"desireth" the salvation of the reprobate, yet everyone of them, by
definition, perish in their sins and so, with respect to them, the
ever-blessed God "hath nothing." Biblical Calvinism affirms that the God
of all glory realizes all His desires and wishes according to His
eternal decree: "The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul" (v. 19)!
This is God’s desire in the preaching of the gospel
with regard to the elect and the reprobate: God wishes and wants (and
affects) the salvation of the elect and—this is the terrible part—the
hardening of the reprobate. What the Most High desires actually happens
(Job 23:13; Ps. 115:3; 135:6). Thus Paul declares that apostolic
preachers are to the one (the reprobate) the savour of death unto death
and to the other (the elect) they are the savour of life unto life (II
Cor. 2:15-16). This is the divine result and intention with the true
preaching of the gospel.
God’s command to Christian ministers is: "Proclaim My
Word—all of it—as a faithful herald! Do not keep parts back and do not
mix it with falsehood!" (cf. II Cor. 2:17; 4:2). He who proclaims the
gospel must will that God’s will be done through the preaching: the
salvation of His elect church and the hardening of His reprobate
enemies. The minister must face these questions: Am I willing to preach
God’s Word faithfully and not add to or subtract from it? Am I willing
to preach knowing that this two-fold effect of the Word is God’s purpose
and desire? Even though some of those who are hardened by the Word I
preach may be members of my family or my friends? We need to remember
that those who love father or mother or friends or wife or anyone more
than Christ are not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:37). The minister must be
able to say that although, personally speaking, he would desire to see
everybody saved who comes under the preaching (Acts 26:29; Rom. 9:1-3;
10:1), God’s sovereign will must be done.18
Christ Himself, that great preacher of God’s grace,
declared, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because
thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed
them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight"
(Matt. 11:25-26, quoted in Canons I:R:8). The minister who is
not willing to be a means of hardening for the reprobate, as well as
saving the elect, and who can not add his "Amen" to these words of our
Lord Jesus, he is the one who is not truly preaching the gospel.
Augustine: "Hence, as far as concerns us, who are
not able to distinguish those who are predestinated from those who are
not, we ought on this very account to will all men to be saved ... It
belongs to God, however, to make that rebuke useful to them whom He
Himself has foreknown and predestinated to be conformed to the image of
His Son" (On Rebuke and Grace, ch. 49).
Calvin: "... the obedience we render to God’s
providence does not prevent us from grieving at the destruction of lost
men, though we know that they are thus doomed by the just judgment of
God; for the same mind is capable of being influenced by these two
feelings: that when it looks to God it can willingly bear the ruin of
those whom he has decreed to destroy; and that when it turns its
thoughts to men, it condoles with their evils. They are then much
deceived, who say that godly men ought to have apathy and insensibility,
lest they should resist the decree of God" (Comm. on Rom. 9:2).
Herman Hoeksema: "What the apostle means is: were
I placed before the alternative that my brethren according to the flesh
be saved, or I; were I permitted to choose between their salvation and
my own, could I effect their salvation by my being accursed, I could
indeed wish to be accursed from Christ in their behalf ... let us note
that the apostle’s attitude in approaching the tremendous subject of
God’s absolute sovereignty in election and reprobation is intended by
the Word of God as an example for us. When, as children of God, we
approach this subject, and speak of God’s sovereign predestination, it
is but proper that our attitude should be deeply spiritual. It may not
be, it could not possibly be the attitude of pride and self-exaltation;
for if it pleased God to ordain us unto salvation in distinction from
others, it certainly is no cause for us to boast in self. One who really
understands the truth of this point will humble himself deeply before
God. Let no flesh glory in His Presence. And this also implies that one
cannot very well speak of the subject of God’s sovereign rejection of
the reprobate, who in time are our fellow men, our kinsmen according to
the flesh, without feeling to an extent the same heaviness, the same
continual sorrow for them which the apostle here so emphatically
declares to feel in his heart. No cold-blooded rejoicing in the
damnation of our fellow men may characterize our contemplation of God’s
sovereign dealings with the children of men. The fact that God’s
predestinating purpose divides our race, makes separation between men of
the same flesh and blood, always remains a matter of suffering as long
as we are in this present time. And this leads me to another remark.
From the viewpoint of our flesh, of our earthly, natural life and
relationships, it is not so strange—barring some theological
objections—to hear the apostle declare that he could wish to be accursed
from Christ for his kinsmen according to the flesh. Without wishing to
place ourselves on a par with the apostle, we may safely say that, in a
degree, we can often repeat these words after him. Just imagine a parent
who experiences the grief of seeing one or more of his children walk the
way of sin and destruction. Just imagine a pastor, who, in the course of
years becomes attached to his flock and earnestly desires their
salvation, but who beholds many of them that are not the objects of
God’s electing love. And what is true of our own flesh and blood in the
narrowest sense of the word and of the Church of Christ in the world in
general can be applied to mankind as a whole. Out of one blood God has
made the whole of the human race, and they are, according to the flesh,
all our brethren. And we can understand a little, at least, of the
attitude of the apostle when he speaks of the great heaviness that
burdens his soul and says that he could wish to be accursed from Christ
for his kinsmen according to the flesh. And in as far as we could wish
in our present flesh and blood, we could indeed desire all men to be
Approach to the Doctrine of Predestination [Rom. 9:1-3]").
1 The audio of the speech from which this article is derived is
available on-line: "Does
God Desire to Save the Reprobate?"
2 John Murray, "The Free Offer of the Gospel," in Collected
Writings of John Murray (Great Britain: Banner, 1982), vol. 4, pp.
3 Cf. John Calvin: "Now a word concerning the reprobate, with whom
the apostle is at the same time there concerned. For as Jacob, deserving
nothing by good works, is taken into grace, so Esau, as yet undefiled by
any crime, is hated [Rom. 9:13]" (Institutes
4 The eternal God is, of course, timeless, transcending time as
well as space.
The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, ed. Henry Paolucci,
trans. J. F. Shaw (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1961), xcv, p. 109; ciii,
6 Free offer preachers try various tacks here, such as "mystery,"
"paradox," two levels in God, God decreeing a sequence of dispositions
in Himself, etc.
7 Professor Georges Serr, as quoted by Roger Nicole, Westminster
Theological Journal, vol. 54, no. 2 (Fall, 1992), p. 396.
8 Wesley railed that the "blasphemy" of predestination "represents
the most holy God as worse than the Devil, as both more false, more
cruel, and more unjust" (quoted in Stephen Tomkins, John Wesley, A
Biography [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003], p. 78).
9 The Works of John Wesley (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), vol.
10, p. 297.
10 Cf. Iain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Great
Britain: Banner, 2003).
11 The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner, repr.
1967), vol. 10, p. 7.
12 Ibid., p. 7.
13 Cf. Roger Nicole, Standing Forth: Collected Writings of Roger
Nicole (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2002), pp. 295,
14 E.g., Phil Johnson even calls A. W. Pink a "hyper-Calvinist" ("A
Primer on Hyper-Calvinism")!
15 Ezekiel 33:11 (equivalent to Ezekiel 18:23), Matthew 23:37
(equivalent to Luke 13:34), I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9 are wrongly
interpreted and scraped up in defence of a (frustrated) desire of God to
save the reprobate. The following theologians, who include some of the
greatest in the Christian church, ably explain some or all of these
texts, opposing the notion that Jehovah earnestly wants (but fails) to
convert those whom He reprobated:
Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, ed. Henry
Paolucci, trans. J. F. Shaw (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1961);
Gottschalk in Victor Genke and Francis
X. Gumerlock (eds. & trans.), Gottschalk and a Medieval Predestination Controversy: Texts Translated From the Latin (Milwaukee,
WI: Marquette University Press, 2010); John
Calvinism (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 1987); John Knox, Against an
Anabaptist: In Defense of Predestination (Edmonton,
Still Waters Revival Books, no
date); Jerome Zanchius,
Absolute Predestination (USA: The National Foundation for
Christian Education, no date); Jacobus Kimedoncius,
Of the Redemption of Mankind, trans. Hugh Ince (London: Felix
Kingston, 1598); John Owen, The Death of Death: in the Death of Jesus Christ
(Great Britain: Banner, 1983); Francis Turretin, Institutes of
Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T.
Dennison, Jr., 3 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1992-1997); John Gill,
The Cause of God and Truth (Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace Publisher,
1971); Abraham Kuyper,
Particular Grace (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2001); Arthur W. Pink,
The Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005); David Engelsma,
Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel (Grandville, MI:
RFPA, 1980); Garrett P. Johnson, "The
Myth of Common Grace," Trinity Review (March, 1987);
Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998); as well as in various writings by
Peter Martyr Vermigli, Herman Hoeksema, Gordon H.
Clark, Richard Bacon, etc., plus Theodore Beza, John Bridges, William
Perkins, John Dove and Jeremias Bastingius (cf. Jonathan Moore,
English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of
Reformed Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007], pp. 47-68).
Sound interpretations of these scriptural texts from many of the godly
ministers mentioned above and others are found in these quotes on "God's Effectual
16 The "Appendix" to this article contains quotes from three
stalwart defenders of particular grace which make the same point.
17 Canons of Dordt III/IV:8: "As many as are called by
the gospel, are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and
truly shown in His Word, what is pleasing to Him, namely, that those who
are called should come to Him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal
life, and rest, to as many as shall come to Him, and believe on Him."
Cf. John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner,
1967), vol. 10, p. 344; Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic
Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R, 1992), vol. 1, pp. 229-230, 408.
18 For two audio sermons on Isaiah 6:9-10 developing
the points of this and the previous paragraph more fully,
listen to "Isaiah's
Call to Preach (I)" and "Isaiah's
Call to Preach (II)."